Why travelling alone is the hardest thing I’ve ever done
I’ve had this post or the bones of it in my mind for a while but writing it has proved harder than any other I’ve written. In the last year as one half of Creative by Trade I started blogging, writing everything and anything about things that either troubled or intrigued me. It’s been an eye opening process I’ve learnt that if the subject is something I’m passionate about the words come easily. Often the subject is informed by something I have experienced but is not always directly related. This post is different. This is a combination of the post I wanted to write about my pre-travel nerves, and the experiences and emotions I have encountered in the last month whilst exploring South America.
…to me ‘traveling’ is to visit two or more destinations or countries for an extended period of time
This isn’t the first time I’ve travelled but it is the first time I’ve been ‘travelling’ as such, it’s also quite possibly the longest time I have been alone. To expand on these statements to me ‘traveling’ is to visit two or more destinations or countries for an extended period of time. It is a chance to meet people from all over the globe and experience new cultures and habitats. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have many great holidays in my time. But that’s exactly what my past experiences have all been, holidays. I have flown in, usually on a chartered flight, picked up a transfer to a hotel or an AirBnB and been greeted by a Rep or Host who can give me the lowdown on how best to spend the time I have, be it a weekend or a week. Some of you who know me might be reading this thinking what about my time in France or Austria? I cherish both those experiences and miss the people and time I spent in each country, however, if I’m honest with myself, I can stretch to say I lived in each country for 5/6months, but realistically, is working for an English company, with English people, for English clients really working abroad? In these situations I have also found it is easy to become a transplant. To attach yourself to the people you work or live with, to create a capsule family. However, when travelling alone, its like that family is divorced every few days. One day you have an amazing time with some great people and the next those people are gone to the next town and whilst the memories and friendships will always be there, you are cast back out to sea to transplant yourself onto the next traveller that walks through the hostel door.
“We are inundated with advice on where to travel to; we hear little of why and how we should go –though the art of travel seems naturally to sustain a number of questions neither so simple nor so trivial and whose study might in modest ways contribute to an understanding of what the Greek philosophers beautifully termed eudaimonia or human flourishing.”
— The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton
Setting out on this trip, I had no aim, people would ask if I was hoping to find myself, and the honest answer at the time was no. One month in, my answer is still the same. I felt before setting off that I knew who I was, and I was happy with that person. I have a wonderful boyfriend, supportive family, job I love and some great friends. So why was I choosing to desert all of these great things to fly half way across the world and spend four months, including Christmas by myself? Having been on the road for just over a month, I’ve often questioned what is the purpose and to be honest I still don’t know. I am travelling for the sake of travelling, travelling because I am a curious person and I have a hunger to see and learn more from the world than the comfort of my home environment can offer. This doesn’t however, make being away from the above any easier, and being a first time ‘traveller’ I have learnt as much about travel as I have about acceptance.
From bad weather to wrong turns
In the run up to the trip I devoured anything I could read or watch about the things I would encounter on my trip, from podcasts to lonely planet reviews I even went as far as compiling a digital scrapbook of screenshots of places I saw online that I wanted to visit. Some places I planned to visit I knew little about only that I wanted to visit, others, I knew exactly what I wanted to do and the sights I wanted to see. Many times I saw these things and they were just as expected, others have been harder to grasp. From bad weather to wrong turns, there have been several days where hopes and expectations have not aligned with reality. This can be disappointing and somewhat of an anticlimax, but why am I letting preconceived expectations, other people’s pictures or stories influence my own experiences? This is my trip, and in the last weeks I have learnt to cherish the unexpected to not be so focused on what ‘I should do in each place’ but rather focus on what I want to see. At times I might hike the wrong trail or miss somewhere I had on that screenshot scrapbook, but there are also great places I wouldn’t have found had I not deferred from my own expectations.
One of the things I have found funniest is the reversal in my opinion to decision making. When planning the trip one of the things that excited me most was that I would be able to make all the decisions, there would be no awkward ‘I don’t mind, what do you want to do’ moments. Simply decisions and actions. And that’s what it’s been, I hadn’t however, counted on the anxiety that comes with booking each bus journey or hostel. Is it the best hostel, will I meet people, have I booked too much time there? All questions that pass my mind each time I open the hostelworld app to peruse the available options. Another is where I should / shouldn’t visit. Do I really want to travel a round trip total of 40 hours by bus to see some waterfalls? The answer is yes. I cannot regret or change any of the decisions I’ve made, some maybe I could have known better, but at each time it was the decision that felt right. I now view each destination as a new adventure, but before I depart on the bus journey, be it 2 or 25hours in length, I must be committed to the destination and endeavour to make the most of my time in each place.
At this moment I have experienced more emotions than I can count, from the awe inspiring highs to the heart breaking lows, good or bad they all feel very fresh. In a sense emotions outweigh the places, yet with time the mind will do what it always does and push these feelings to the back of my mind. Instead conjuring images of the amazing places I’ve visited. I may sometimes question my sanity on a daily basis but looking back on the last month it’s been a whirlwind adventure that has been rich with new experiences and perspectives. Sometimes you have to be uncomfortable to get comfortable. One month in and its starting to feel I’ve broken in those stiff hiking boots I flew out with and who knows where they’ll take me next…